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Concealed weapons now allowed for use by courthouse officials

Protection given to judicial workers

By Erin Buller

Texarkana Gazette

Judges and other court officials may soon be able to carry concealed handguns thanks to recent legislation prompted by current events.

A bill that passed the Texas Senate on May 24 and is expected to reach Gov. Rick Perry's desk this week allows federal and municipal judges and district and county attorneys to carry guns within state and federal buildings if they have a handgun license.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, sponsored the bill. He said the idea for it came from the Smith County Courthouse shootings on Feb. 24 in Tyler.

In that incident, David Hernandez Arroyo Sr. shot and killed his ex-wife and a bystander following a case about back child support. He also wounded his son and three law enforcement officers. Arroyo was later killed by Tyler police.

"After the Smith County shooting in February, Matt Bingham, our district attorney in Tyler, called me and asked that I look into allowing district attorneys to carry guns inside the courthouse," Eltife said. "This legislation came out of that."

Eltife said that this bill will add federal judges and district attorneys to an existing law that allows state judges to carry handguns.

"There are provisions in the law now to allow state judges to carry guns in court buildings, not federal judges and district attorneys," he explained. "Several of our district attorneys have concealed handgun licenses. They get threats and such, and they should be able to protect themselves."

The bill was unanimously passed in the Senate last week. Eltife said he was "pleased to see such support for this legislation."

The final version of the bill went to the governor's desk late last week. If he signs it, the new law would take effect Sept. 1.

"I think the governor will look favorably on it," Eltife said. "I hope he will sign it."

Local officials think this bill is a step in the right direction in regard to courthouse security and protection.

"I think it's a good idea," Bowie County Sheriff James Prince said. "A lot of things happen in the courtroom. A judge should be able to protect himself as much as possible in or outside the courtroom."

On the other hand, Judge Jack Carter of the 6th District Court of Appeals in Texarkana says guns should be kept out of court proceedings.

"It is safer to keep guns out of the courtroom. Most courts have taken steps to improve security and safety," he said.

Carter said more than just attorneys or judges will be affected by this bill.

"Not only judges, but jurors or anyone inside the courtroom needs to feel additional protection," Carter said. "There are security officers inside our courtrooms and security checkpoints in most courthouses."

Sheriff Prince sees this initiative as added security to public officials and has considered courthouse security in this matter.

"It would be the same as an officer coming through the door," Prince said. "We know the judges and would treat them as an armed officer."

Prince said the possibility of inmates or criminals taking possession of the guns does not present an immediate problem. It "would be like someone trying to take a gun away from an officer," he said. "Judges know what to do and how to be careful with a gun."

On the other side, Carter feels that people need to remain aware of the nearness of inmates or criminals to concealed guns.

"We need to remain cognizant of a small percentage of people who [could] create problems [in the courtroom]," Carter said. "We need to take whatever appropriate measures to insure criminals cannot obtain a gun in a courtroom."

He said criminals are not the only ones to look out for.

"Family members in civil litigation and family court [get to a point where] emotions run high," said Carter. "There can be volatile situations in civil and family court as well."

Eltife has also considered the possibility of inmates or criminals getting their hands on a gun and thinks that people who have gone through the process of obtaining a license should have the capability of handling those kinds of situations.

"Someone who has gone through the process in most cases knows how to handle themselves," Eltife said.


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